(Photo: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)
Pro-life and religious liberty groups harshly criticized the Obama administration's announcement on Friday about proposed accommodations concerning the controversial contraceptive mandate, saying the proposal does not meaningfully expand the "church-only" exemption and amounts to little more than a gesture.
"All Americans, not just those in church organizations, are guaranteed freedom of conscience in their daily lives and work," said Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Legal Counsel Matt Bowman. "The administration's narrow gesture does nothing to protect many faith-based employers or religious families from the unconstitutional abortion pill mandate. The government has no business putting religious freedom on the negotiating table, or picking and choosing who is allowed to exercise faith."
Lawyers for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty also had a problem with the constitutionality of the mandate rule, saying "it does nothing to protect the rights of family businesses like Hobby Lobby."
"The administration obviously realizes that the HHS mandate puts constitutional rights at risk," said Kyle Duncan, General Counsel for Beckett Fund. "There would have been an easy way to resolve this – expanding the exemption – but the proposed rule expressly rejects that option."
The legal group added in a statement, "The proposed rule does not meaningfully expand the 'church-only' exemption – which is the real relief that our clients are entitled to under our constitution."
Catholic-based groups have protested against the HHS mandate ever since it was announced that they would have to offer employees insurance that provides access to birth control, which is against Roman Catholic doctrine. And other Christian groups have also joined in against the mandate because it includes coverage of abortifacient drugs. The current provision allows for a very narrow exemption for some religious groups, but Christian-owned companies like Hobby Lobby, Christian-oriented businesses like Tyndale House Publishers, and schools like Wheaton College are not exempt, and have filed lawsuits against the government's birth control mandate.
"The HHS mandate announcement today changes nothing, it is just another accounting gimmick and the HHS mandate continues to be a violation of civil rights, religious freedom and 1st Amendment rights," stated officials at The Catholic Association. "Catholic institutions and other faith based organizations, including hospitals and universities and private employers, still do not get their 1st amendment rights back and are still being forced to either violate their faith or pay crippling government fines for practicing their faith."
However, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius insisted in her statement on Friday that the administration is "respecting religious concerns" while taking the next step in providing women "with coverage of recommended preventive care at no cost."
"We will continue to work with faith-based organizations, women's organizations, insurers and others to achieve these goals," Sebelius stated, according to news reports.
The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), a pro-life legal organization that focuses on constitutional law, said it is extremely disappointed that the proposed rule change concerning the mandate does not apply to all Americans.
"We're extremely disappointed that the Obama Administration does not respect the religious beliefs of all Americans," said Francis Manion, Senior Counsel of the ACLJ. "This country's laws and Constitution protect the religious freedom of all Americans, whether organized into religious bodies or not. Religious believers who simply want to conduct their businesses in a manner consistent with their religious beliefs have the same right to religious liberty as everybody else."
Lila Rose, president of Live Action, said the proposed rules by the administration "do practically nothing to lessen President Obama's attack on religious freedom."
She commented, "Catholic institutions and other religious hospitals, universities and private employers are still being forced to either violate their beliefs or pay crippling government fines for practicing their faith. This extreme government intrusion is not only a violation of the First Amendment rights of millions of Americans, it is also a vehicle for continued record funding for the abortion industry by the Obama administration.
"As conscience protection is an essential American institution cherished by left and right alike, the only sure path back to religious liberty in our country demands Congress to completely repeal the HHS mandate."
There are now 44 separate lawsuits challenging the HHS mandate, which is a regulation under the Affordable Care Act (aka "Obamacare"), according to The Becket Fund.